AKA: The London Adventures of Kate
Digging-buddy Kathryn, from the great land of Canada, was grinning from ear to ear as we meet at Tower Hill tube station on a warm Sunday morning in August. She was in town to check out universities (primarily the Institute of Archaeology. Other universities are available) with a view to studying her postgraduate degree in the UK. She’d been up in Northumberland digging at Vindolanda for the past two weeks, and it’s from previous year’s digs that we know each other.
As Kathryn was due to be coming to town for a couple of days, we’d arranged to do a little walking tour of the City, with a focus on Roman stuff and a bit of a visit to the Thames foreshore thrown in for good measure. For good measure, Sophie and Claire are also joining us.
We’d already met up to go to the Globe on Saturday evening, starting with some lovely Greek food at The Real Greek on Bankside and then taking in Macbeth with our friend Claire (1st time Globe-goer) and my two regular Globe-Buddies, Eunice and Zophie.
For our tour, we started from Tower Hill, with the plan to have a look at a couple of sections of City wall and then head west along the river.
Right wall Kathryn, but wrong Emperor.
Then we headed off towards the Tower of London. We weren’t going in because we’d end up in there all day (it’s sooo good), but I pointed out that there is a chunk of the city wall, with a later bastion, and a section of the Roman waterfront inside the walls of the Tower, so they should be on the list for any future visits. We did get to see the remains of the Postern Gate. This is one of the gates of the City of London, not one of the main gates (like Moorgate or Cripplegate) but, more probably, a smaller pedestrian gate right at the south-eastern corner of the City.
Our next stop was supposed to be the church of All Hallows by the Tower. This was the church to which the bodies of people executed on Tower Hill (just across the road) were brought before burial. Or, at least, what was left of their bodies . It’s an ancient church, dating back to the 7th century, although it had to be rebuilt after the War as it received bomb damage. But it’s also on the site of even more ancient remains, which we had come to see. Unfortunately, and for unexplained reasons, it was shut, so after a little detour to look at a small building belonging to the (defunct) London Hydraulic Power Company, we decided to continue on our way, down Thames Street.
On the way I pointed out the locations of some other London sights, which are only open on rare occasions, including the Billingsgate Bath House and a couple of the Liveried Companies. And so to Cousin Lane Stairs. We arrived to see two unexpected faces, Nathalie and Courtney from the Thames Discovery Programme. They were supposed to be leading a guided walk at Bankside but had been turfed off because of the wobbly Bridge and the surrounding area being used by a film company for some outrageous blockbuster movie about aliens. They’d had to quickly switch their walk to the foreshore near Cannon Street and London Bridges.
This is a section of foreshore that I’m quite familiar with from my FROG visits, so I was able to point out a few things that were of particular interest to Kathryn (as a Romanist). Just near the stairs there are the pieces of a Roman quern or small mill stone. It had almost certainly been reused in the construction of a rough causeway, along with other large blocks of reused stone, but due to its proximity to the Walbrook, an extremely important river in Roman period London, I can’t help wondering if it’s evidence of a tide mill(s) in the immediate area.
We also had a look at some non-Roman features including the barge-beds, the remains of the river stairs at Steelyard (just on the downstream side of Cannon Street railway bridge), earlier riverside structures that were incorporated into the later foreshore structures, and a sluice gate. We also did a little bit of mudlarking, and Kathryn was delighted with her giant bag of finds (she didn’t keep most of them. There was just fun in the finding).
Kathryn is a keen geocacher and had identified some geocaches near the route of our walk, so she was going to try to get one right at the foreshore where we were. Randomly, another geocaccher also turned up looking for the same cache so he did the climbing for her.
Next we retreated back to dry land and headed up to “the most disappointing monument in London”, stopping to retrieve another geocache on the way. London Stone is one of those objects that carries with it the promise of something momentous, but utterly fails to deliver. It’s a sad little thing but, according to a ridiculous and laughable Daily Fail story that Claire found on the internet, the suggestion of moving it to another location (about 40 metres away) has caused “fury” and will result in the destruction of London if it were to go ahead. We all agreed that that particular rag is a disgrace and should be banned. Then we went to look at something much less disappointing. The site of the recent Walbrook excavation.
This is the dig that made ‘Pompeii of the North’ headlines earlier in the year, and which I was fortunate enough to have been able to visit a couple of times. This is an important site which I can’t do justice to here, but suffice it to say that there’ll be tears of joy when the Mithraeum finally returns (more or less) to it’s original site in about 2016. We had a look at the excellent site hoardings which show images of some of the finds, of the recent dig, and of the dig carried out by Grimes in 1954. I was also able to give the others a run down of info about the site that I’d gleaned from my visits and from talks given at the LAMAS conference earlier in the year.
Next we head up towards the Guildhall; centre of commerce and big dinners in the medieval city, but a place of entertainment and probably quite a lot of gore in the Roman city, for this is where, in 1988, archaeologists found the remains of the amphitheatre.
The preservation of timber in London is so good because of all the Lost Rivers, the Thames tributaries which create the damp, anaerobic conditions needed for organic materials to survive. This is a section of the drain, complete with a silt-trap still in-situ.
We also went into the Guildhall itself for a bit of WOW!
Next we headed off towards London Wall, and our lunch/cup of tea stop at the Museum of London, but on the way we took in a few more bits of City wall and a corner turret of the Cripplegate Fort.
Phew! A cup of tea and a sandwich, and Katherine absolutely LOVING the Museum of London’s shop 😀 …and then we were off to the Roman galleries.
Basically we did a bit of a chronological tour of the museum, joined the fire brigade in the Great Fire of London galleries…
… we chucked Kathryn in a prison cell…
…that’s what she gets from hanging about on street corners…
…and spending too much time in the pub…
…and Claire chose her new set of wheels.
As I’m out with total GEEKS, we also have to have photos taken with the dalek (which is obviously very scary because it induced terror in both Kathryn and Sophie
Oh, and apparently, stairs no longer present any problem to Daleks.
After a little bit of shopping in the MoL shop, we head off to Postman’s Park. This is named for the many posties who used this park when the headquarters of the General Post Office was situated round the corner at St. Martin le Grand, but its claim to fame is that it contains the Watts Gallery of memorials to ‘heroic’ men, women and children who died trying to save others. Built to mark Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1900.
Having retrieved another cache, Kathryn contemplates the brevity of life…
Lastly, having lost both Claire and Sophie, me and Kathryn set off to St. Bride’s Church, just off Fleet Street. This is known as the printer’s church, due to its proximity to the old headquarters of so many newspapers. It’s, probably apocryphal, claim to fame is as the inspiration for the tiered wedding cake! And its definitely real claim to fame is as the parish church of Samuel Pepys.
What we’ve come to see is hidden in the crypt. Amongst the remains of the WW2 bomb damage, the destruction of the Great Fire of London , the remnants of norman and saxon church, there are two, small, very difficult to see, sections of Roman tesselated floor. These are only visible with the help of judiciously placed mirrors, but they are wonderfully unexpected (if you didn’t happen to know that they were there).
We nearly got locked in the church, looking for another geocache (which we didn’t find), but now we were a bit crackered and wanted a sit down, so we jumped on a bus and headed off to the South Bank.
A sit down, a cuppa, and then upstairs to take in the gorgeous view from the 6th floor terrace and we call it a night.
As we’d missed out on going to All Hallows by the Tower yesterday, I met up with Kathryn this afternoon (having taken a couple of hours TOIL off work) and we met at Tower Hill to go for a little look.
In the crypt below the church there is a small museum space containing, amongst other things, some of the Roman items found on the site over the years. There is also a section of in-situ tesselated floor from a Roman waterfront house.
This is a fantastic space and very evocative. Proof that a museum doesn’t need to be big or flashy to inspire real interest, despite the fact that it’s a space of only about 40metres by 3metres.
As it’s a weekday today (Monday) another place that we missed out on yesterday was available to us.
We made our way up to Leadenhall Market to visit a hairdressers shop. In the downstairs salon, at the back of the shop, is a corner section of the Roman Forum Basilica.
I don’t know what the contraption in front of the sign is, but we guessed that it was to do with hair colouring.
It was too dark to take pictures, but here’s one I prepared earlier…
As we were just round the corner from the Gherkin, we went round to see that too and were surprised to see that it was being guarded by some dinosaurs (obviously)
There are a number of other installations in the same area which we run round looking at.
Don’t sit down there! It’s a trick!
To end our min-tour, we headed back towards St, Paul’s and went into the shopping centre at 1 New Change, took the lift up to the roof terrace, and admired the view over St. Paul’s and across London.
And so home for tea.
Seeing Kathryn was a hoot, as always, and we look forward to seeing her in London again some time soon.